Sheffield United’s second fixture after the restart of the Premier League gives them the opportunity to move up to 5th with victory at Newcastle United.
The Blades were left cursing their luck on Wednesday evening as an unprecedented goal-line technology error saw them held to a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa, but this has been an extraordinary campaign from Chris Wilder’s side and Sunday afternoon’s fixture could help bring European football one step closer to Bramall Lane next term.
Opponents Newcastle sit 14th in the table. An eight-point cushion to the relegation zone looks to have them clear of any trouble, with much of the talk during lockdown concerning a proposed takeover financed primarily by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Ever-present left-sided centre-back Jack O’Connell and influential central-midfielder John Fleck both missed out on the game at Villa Park, but Wilder hopes both will be available for the trip to the North East. A late knock to substitute David McGoldrick on Wednesday night is not expected to rule him out of contention. Mo Besic returned to parent club Everton in the week, and Wilder says decisions are imminent on loanees Richairo Zivkovic and Panagiotis Retsos, neither of whom made the squad of 20 on Wednesday.
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce is likely to have his options limited if, as expected, central-midfield pair Matty and Sean Longstaff fail to overcome injury concerns. Centre-back Florian Lejeune also looks set to miss out, whilst Ciaran Clark, Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are doubts. One bonus is that goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, who has established himself as one of the best shot-stoppers in the division, will be fit having been ruled out of the original fixture scheduled for 14 March.
The December meeting in the Steel City saw the visitors set up to absorb pressure, allowing the Blades 73 percent possession, and it paid off as goals from Allan Saint-Maximin and Jonjo Shelvey earned the Magpies a 2-0 win. Shelvey’s goal was mired in controversy, with VAR overturning an earlier offside flag in the move after much of Bramall Lane had stopped.
This will be the Blades’ first visit to St James’ Park since 2010, when a 2-1 victory for Newcastle secured their promotion to the Premier League. However their last top-flight visit saw Danny Webber’s goal bring the three points back to South Yorkshire.
The Toon Army are the division’s joint-lowest scorers with just 25 goals to their name. However, Steve Bruce’s side did keep clean sheets in their last two league outings prior to the league’s shutdown – a 0-0 draw with Burnley and a 1-0 win at Southampton.
Sheffield United meanwhile have the league’s meanest defence apart from leaders Liverpool, conceding only 25 times.
Newcastle have lost only three times at St James’ this season, whilst the Blades have only been beaten on the road by the top two of Liverpool and Manchester City.
Saturday’s 15 Premier League and Championship fixtures produced only two home wins, suggesting that trends seen elsewhere in Europe of behind closed doors football diminishing home advantage are also prevalent in England.
ONE TO WATCH
Paraguayan international Miguel Almiron is a popular figure with Newcastle fans: six goals and one assist in all competitions doesn’t do justice to his contribution to the team. The versatile attacking midfielder netted twice in the FA Cup victory at West Brom in March, and his energetic style of play will be invaluable in the absence of the usual vociferous home crowd.
This game kicks-off Renault Super Sunday on Sky Sports, and is also available free-to-air on Sky Pick (Freeview channel 144). Coverage starts at 1pm, with kick-off at 2pm.